Natural laboratory shows how corals may be able to adapt to climate change

By Angela Heathcote | May 29, 2017

Researchers have discovered a lagoon system in New Caledonia which has provided a window into how corals may adapt to climate change, however they say this is so no supplement for being proactive in the face of climate change.

RESEARCHERS HAVE DISCOVERED A lagoon system in New Caledonia which has provided a window into how corals may adapt to climate change.

Reef-building corals, also known as “super corals”, can adapt to extreme environmental conditions, said head researcher Emma Camp, a marine biochemist from the University of Technology Sydney.

The team of researchers went on 3 different expeditions to the lagoon in Bouraké and identified groups of corals surrounded by mangroves, which cause hot, acidic waters with low oxygen levels.

Emma said that the temperatures these corals were adapting to exceeded those predicted under climate change. “These could indeed be the ‘Super Corals’ of the future that will help support proactive management options attempting to upgrade reef resilience.”

The lagoon system has provided a unique way of analysing the effects of climate change on groups of coral. Emma says that, at the moment scientists are searching for natural laboratories that allow them to verify the findings of studies conducted in a laboratory setting.

According to the study, “In vitro experiments are widely used to forecast reef-building coral health into the future, but often fail to account for the complex ecological and biogeochemical interactions that govern reefs.”

The researchers admit that the findings from the study are no supplement for being proactive in the face of climate change.

“Although these findings are extremely positive, we must not underestimate the threat to the world’s coral reefs from climate change. We know reefs are terminally ill globally and undoubtedly immediate action is needed to ensure their success.”

David Suggett, co-author of the study, said the next step would be to understand the hardware that these species of coral — Acropora formosa, Acropora pulchra, Coelastrea aspera and Porites lutea, have developed to survive under these conditions.

In 3 weeks time Emma will be leading a team of researchers to the Great Barrier Reef, funded by the National Geographic Waiit Foundation, on a five day research trip. “We’ll be looking for evidence of these highly variable environmental mangrove systems and the molecular signatures of the corals in these environments.”

There’s hope that the findings from the lagoon system in New Caledonia will inform ways to improve the management of the Great Barrier Reef, Emma says.

“We’ve got to think about how we can best manage what we have. We need to look at proactive management, whether this includes increased protection of certain areas or even harvesting and raising corals in sub-optimal environments to produce super corals- one’s that will have a better ability to survive in high temperatures, low-pH and low oxygen waters of the future.”

This research was published in the journal Scientific Reports.

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